William's Diary ~ Part 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ~ diary month-by-month ~ May 1810 - December 1810

May 1810 - We received the route for Deal, where we occupied the new barracks (not the Pavilion). The 18th Light Dragoons were in the cavalry barracks adjoining ours. In June I got leave of absence to go to London, and there spent some time with Lieutenant John Graham at the Nagg’s Head in the Borough.

I received a letter from Colonel Pack recommending me to join the 88th as paymaster, and went to London for the purpose, but arrived too late, as General Beresford had appointed another to the situation.

September 10th 1810 - Embarked at Deal with 600 of the regiment for Portugal under the command of Sir Nathaniel Levett Peacock on board the ‘Melpomene’ and ‘San Fiorenzo’ frigates. In six days we made the Tagus, and disembarked at Lisbon. Here we received our camp equipage, with mules, and a light cart to carry the weak men’s packs, a camp kettle for every six men, and a bill hook. I now bought a mule for 80 dollars that proved very serviceable afterwards.

We marched the first day to Mafra, a palace and convent; we were quartered in the convent. Here witnessed the burial of one of the brotherhood, which was truly grand.

October 13th 1810 - The command of our regiment was taken by the bravest of soldiers, and the most honourable of men, the Honourable Henry Cadogan; Sir N. L. Peacock preferring snug quarters at Hythe, in Kent, to the privations of a Peninsular campaign. Next day we advanced to Sobral de Monte Agraça, where the enemy were entrenched, with wine vessels and furniture taken from the inhabitants. During the night an order was issued by Colonel Cadogan to destroy all superfluous baggage, etc. I immediately disposed of my shirts, etc., giving them to whoever would receive them, and next morning when the baggage animals were paraded the Colonel asked me where was mine. I replied,
‘All my stock is in my valise behind me.’
‘Bravo, bravo,’ said my brave Colonel, ‘that is like a soldier.’

October 16th 1810 - We were divided only by a small field from the enemy, the rains had so heavily fallen that we were knee deep in the mud. At length, as if by mutual consent, the opposing armies advanced to the attack, in the intervening apace, and man to man were opposed for about an hour. Major Reynall (now Sir Thomas, Major General), fought sword in hand with a French Grenadier and overcame him, and laid him stretched on the ground. A psalm-singing Methodist, John Rae, who was considered a useless burthen on the regiment, behaved in most gallant manner, and bayonetted half a dozen Frenchmen. (42) The Enemy were ultimately forced to retire with considerable loss.

We remained in the advance for a considerable time, up to our knees in mud. I contrived to get a turkey, which I boiled, and brought up to my worthy Colonel, with a canteen of rum. On arrival in the lines, knowing I had something, I was surrounded by the officers crying, ‘Gavin, Gavin, for God’s sake give us a drop.’ I shared as far as I could, still reserving the turkey, and some for my friend, to whom I made my way. After partaking of my poor mess and taking a tot of the rum, he pulled out a tin flask and said, ‘Gavin, I am not so badly off, for here is some brandy sent me by Sir Brent Spencer, and you take a go down of it.’

During the skirmish of the 16th the Colonel’s horse was shot and, he asked me for mine, a small black mare, which I instantly gave him. In my valise behind was contained all my wealth, two shirts and about forty dollars. He being a heavy man, and the ground so deep that the small animal could not carry him above one hundred yards, but he, ever eager to get into the thick of the fight, jumped off and left my poor Rosinante stuck in the mud. The bullets were flying at the time as thick as hail. To advance and secure my treasure and horse seemed certain death, and without them was beggary. I chose the former and got off unhurt, with a trifle.

A cessation of firing took place, and a mutual agreement was entered into to bury the dead and carry, off the wounded. Lieutenant Lawe, of the 71st, and a French officer met in the field and shook hands, when the Frenchman gave him a welcome tot of rum from his canteen. We remained here for a few days, and then retired to the lines of Torres Vedras.

We were brigaded with the 50th and 92nd, under the command of Sir William Erskine, and quartered at the village of Sobreira. Here we suffered the greatest privations, although within seven leagues of Lisbon.

I here visited my old friend and benefactor, Sir Dennis Pack (now a Major-General in the Portugese service). He lived in a hut of sods with scarcely a bed of straw to rest on, but so devoted was he to his country that he appeared to be quite comfortable and cheerful; he received me with the warmest friendship.

On my leaving General Pack, a soldier of the 30th Regiment accosted me, and announced himself to be a son of Doctor M’Mahon, of Omaghrin, in the County of Tyrone, and my cousin. I had not seen him from his infancy, and then every prospect of happiness and affluence awaited him, but he made an imprudent match and was discarded by his father and obliged to enlist as a private soldier. He was afterwards sent to Belem Hospital, where he died. I paid the expenses of his wife and child to Ireland, and know not what has become of them.

Our privations were nothing in comparison to those of the French. They were reduced to live on mules and asses, and one day the officer of their picket got by some chance a bullock (our lines was divided from theirs by a deep ravine), and when in the act of killing him, he escaped to our picquet, and was most eagerly seized by our party. The Frenchmen were in such want that they followed the bullock into our lines, and begged a part of it, which Lieutenant John Graham, who commanded, generously gave them, and allowed them to depart, for which he was severely repremanded, (He was my most intimate friend.)

November 14th 1810 - The French appeared unusually busy, and reinforced their working party about the windmill, and a reconnaisance was made by Masséna and his staff. We were apprehensive of an attack next morning, and were under arms an hour before day. Captain Adamson of our Regiment commanded the advance picquet, but the French army retreated during the night. They dismounted their cavalry and left the horses behind the hill, and marched the men up in columns early in the morning as infantry. About twelve o’clock they retired, and mounting their horses scampered off after the army on the road to Santarem. At one o’clock our army was in full pursuit after the enemy. The route the French had taken was marked by every atrocity on the unfortunate inhabitants. Murder, robbery, etc., was traced in every direction. On our march, in searching for wine, we found a dead Frenchman in a large tun, fully accoutred, who, in looking in at the top, lost his balance and was smothered in the liquor. Our fellows dragged him out and drank the wine with as much composure as if nothing had happened. (43)

November 19th 1810 - We pursued the French army until we got in front of Santarem. We there found them drawn up in line of battle in an olive wood. We were ordered to pile arms and wait for a signal gun from a Portugese train of artillery to advance. In front of our Regiment was a deep morass, over which was a narrow bridge, and at the head of which was a brigade of French guns, which commanded the passage completely. During our suspense waiting for the signal our brave Colonel Cadogan came up to me and asked ‘had I any rum in my canteen.’ Thinking it was for himself, I answered in the affirmative. He then called out two of the most active men from each company to run a certain distance for a tot of my rum, and when that was finished another, and another; but I at length declared off, or he would have emptied my canteen. We remained till nightfall waiting for the signal, but by some mistake it was not fired, and we were marched to the village of (blank space in original), (44) when a most tremendous fall of rain commenced, which lasted for the whole night, and we were exposed in the open air to its pelting. Two other officers with myself got into a stable and were comparatively comfortable, when Colonel Stewart of the 50th came in and turned us out, crying ‘Seniores priores, 71st’. Next morning our Regiment was marched to the village of Alcanterina, where we were quartered in a convent, the nuns having been expelled by the French, who destroyed everything, and ransacked the church.

In this village I got an attack of fever and ague and was obliged to be sent to Lisbon, where I remained for six weeks, attended by Staff-Surgeon Hosack - at many times given over by him and other medical men. On my recovery Colonel Cadogan obtained leave for me to go to England the only request he ever asked from Lord Wellington, though his sister was married to his Lordship’s brother, the present Lord Cowley. The Colonel was sent at the same time (45) with dispatches, after the battle of Fuentes de Honore.

On Christmas Day 1810 - I embarked for Portsmouth with fourteen officers of different regiments, and sailed that evening. We had scarcely cleared the mouth of the Tagus when a storm arose, which drove us out of our course to near Gibraltar. We were tossed about for five days and forced to put back to Lisbon, where, after getting a fresh stock of provisions, we again sailed with a favourable breeze. On nearing the French coast, just as we were sitting down to dinner, we espied a large frigate bearing down on us with every sail set. We were in the greatest consternation, as may be supposed, not having a gun or soldier aboard, and she gaining on us every minute. We fancied ourselves on the road to Verdun for a French prison, but to our great joy, when she came within gun shot of us she put about ship and took another course. She turned out to be an American frigate. In two days we reached Plymouth, but the wind being contrary we could not sail up the Channel. Here Lieutenant McCraw (71st), Captain Stewart (61st), and myself landed, and took the coach to London. We arrived at the ‘Swan with Two Necks’ in Lad Lane on the second night. Next day Captain Stewart and myself took lodgings in Suffolk Street, Charing Cross.